Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC, Augusta Correctional Center
Recently Congress passed a prison reform bill attacking harsh sentences in a bipartisan effort to address injustices within the system which have resulted in mass incarceration. Many people are under the impression that this also applies to the states. What must be understood is that this is only for the Federal Prison System. In order for any type of prison reform to take place in Virginia, the General Assembly has to pass it through legislation first. I have had to explain this to so many of those that I am incarcerated with as they have all been hyped under the misconception that Virginia is too following the Federal legislation.
In striving to educate them about the process I let them know that even though the legislation does not apply in the states, the fact that Congress acknowledged the need for prison reform lends credence towards the fact that the state should be doing the same. If the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are willing to address this issue then why not the Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly of Virginia?
So how do we use this to our advantage in Virginia? Well, we as prisoners do not have the right to vote, but our families and friends do. We have to galvanize our families and friends to vote for whichever candidate that we endorse, and what we are saying is that if that candidate does not have prison and criminal justice reform as a part their campaign then they will not receive our votes. This type of civic engagement has worked in many other states, we are just behind the curb here in Virginia.
As free citizens our families and friends are taxpayers which means that they have a say so in where their tax dollars are going. The biggest way to ensure that your dollars go where you want and need them to go is to engage your representatives and hold them accountable. Let us work in unison to bring about the changes that we seek, and let us not get discouraged because those changes don’t come about instantly. There are no microwavable solutions for problems that require an oven of activism, so let’s keep on baking.